|Shonn Greene hasn't been the feature back the Jets hoped for when they made him a starter. (US Presswire)|
Too bad there's not a trophy for winning the month of March. There's no team that is better at generating offseason interest than the New York Jets.
If it's not coach Rex Ryan guaranteeing something, it's quarterback Mark Sanchez and wide receiver Santonio Holmes trying to patch a rift as wide as the West Side Highway. Or maybe it's repairing a locker room so badly divided that former running back LaDainian Tomlinson called it "as bad as I've ever been around."
Now it's trying to figure out how Sanchez and the newly acquired Tim Tebow fit. Critics complain that adding Tebow creates too much pressure for Sanchez, but Sanchez says he's OK with the move -- and he should be. If Tebow is as inaccurate as his critics claim, there's no threat.
Simple as that.
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But people tell me to wait until he throws an interception or loses a game, and those "J-E-T-S, Jets! Jets! Jets!" chants turn to "T-I-M, Tim! Tim! Tim!" Well, I'm sorry, but that's the nature of pro sports. If Sanchez can't stand the heat, he should get out of Hell's Kitchen.
All I know is that there's enough material here to keep the New York dailies occupied, which is all part of the plan. The Jets acquire Tebow, owner Woody Johnson won't rule out a return to HBO's Hard Knocks and headline writers keep busy.
Ryan said he's convinced this team will bounce back, win a lot of games and return to the playoffs. But he's saying nothing more, and that's a start.
QB: Though Sanchez threw a career-high 26 touchdown passes, he didn't take the leap forward that coaches hoped -- and, for the first time in his pro career, he didn't make the playoffs either. Hey, it happens. But he didn't make plays that were there, didn't win games he could have and, in the end, was in the middle of a controversy that featured both him and a disgruntled Santonio Holmes. The Jets reaffirmed their commitment to Sanchez by extending his contract by three years ... but then they went out and acquired Tebow. Rex Ryan insists the position belongs to Sanchez, but let's revisit this at midseason. For now, Sanchez runs the first team, and Tebow runs the Wildcat and/or gadget offenses that new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano installs. Ryan says he expects Tebow could play as many as 20 snaps a game, which means Sanchez could lose as many as 20. People tell me that somehow will put pressure on Sanchez, but I'm not buying it. I say the pressure's on Ryan and his offensive staff to balance the position and keep the locker room unified.
RB: The Jets want to return to the good ol' days of "Ground and Pound," when they buried opponents with one of the league's top rushing attacks and play-action passing. Only one problem: They don't have the personnel to do it. Shonn Greene was supposed to be the answer, but he hasn't done much of anything since the Jets let Thomas Jones walk. Over the past two seasons Greene produced 1,820 yards rushing and scored eight times, not what the Jets had in mind when they made him their starter. Backup Joe McKnight has shown flashes, but nothing more. The Jets ranked 22nd in rushing last season, and if you don't find the people here to push that figure up, maybe it's because one of the key figures isn't a running back; it's quarterback Tim Tebow, who was part of the league's top-rated running offense, running for 660 yards, averaging 5.4 per carry and scoring six rushing touchdowns. The Jets need a bona fide back to hammer opponents between the tackles, and so far that guy isn't here.
WR: Now that Holmes is back, the question is: Can he get along with his quarterback? He couldn't last year when that quarterback was Sanchez, but both he and Sanchez insist they're good now and should be OK for the season. We'll see. The Jets dropped off here last season, with Plaxico Burress giving them little and Derrick Mason giving them nothing. Mason was traded away, and Burress wasn't re-signed. So there are openings for qualified candidates, and if you're going to make a commitment to Sanchez you better give him targets to work with. So far, we're looking at Holmes, Chaz Schilens, Jeremy Kerley and Patrick Turner, and let's just say they won't get confused with "The A-Team." Holmes is by far the most talented, and by far the most high-maintenance. There was nobody in here who had a catch longer than 38 yards, and that tells you something about them and the Jets' passing attack.
TE: Dustin Keller is listed as a tight end, but he's really not. Of course, neither are a lot of guys playing the position in the NFL. Keller plays more like a wide receiver, with good hands and marginal blocking skills, and he was by far Sanchez's most reliable set of hands last year. In fact, his 41-yard catch was the longest downfield completion of the season (LaDainian Tomlinson's 74-yard catch and run was vis a screen pass), tying him with backup Matthew Mulligan. Of course, Mulligan's pass was thrown by wide receiver Jeremy Kerley, but who's counting? Coaches seem to believe in Jeff Cumberland, whose season was shortened after only three starts last year and who looks to play more of a prominent role in 2012.
OL: There's a lot to like here, starting with center Nick Mangold, named to his fourth straight Pro Bowl. Mangold is one of the top offensive linemen in the game, and while he slumped in midseason last year he recovered down the stretch. Not so lucky was left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, who made the Pro Bowl despite a disappointing season. He needs to pick up his game if the Jets are to make an impact. Guards Brandon Moore and Matt Slauson are solid, particularly the underrated Moore, but right tackle Wayne Hunter struggled against elite pass rushers -- sometimes looking more like a turnstile than a speed bump. He must improve or be replaced. One problem: The first guy off the bench is Vladimir Ducasse, and he showed no signs of progress in his second season.
DL:The re-signing of nose tackle Sione Pouha was huge, with Pouha one of the principal reasons opponents preferred to run wide instead of up the gut against New York. The Jets needed Pouha almost as much for his locker-room presence as for his play on the field, where he was a dominant run stuffer. Besides, backup Kenrick Ellis hasn't shown that he's ready to assume more than a part-time role. Defensive end Mike DeVito was one of the league's most underappreciated players, another defender who was tough vs. the run. Backup Marcus Dixon played well when DeVito was sidelined, while rookie defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson made big strides and looks like a keeper.
LB: David Harris isn't just the best linebacker here; he's one of the best linebackers anywhere, and, for the life of me, I'm not sure why he isn't recognized more for his accomplishments. He was among the team leaders in almost every defensive category, with five sacks and four interceptions, yet somehow wasn't chosen for the Pro Bowl. Huh? "He's made more plays than anybody in this league," Ryan said. Not really, but he's close. The guy is a complete, every-down player who, along with Darrelle Revis, is the heart and soul of this defense. Unfortunately, that's not true of Bart Scott, who seemed to slip and was spotted by Josh Mauga in passing situations late in the season. Having a healthy Bryan Thomas back should make a difference in a perimeter run defense that suffered without him -- provided, of course, that Thomas is recovered from an Achilles tendon injury. Former Buffalo first-round draft pick Aaron Maybin was a find, winding up as the team leader in sacks with six. That's the good news. The bad: He didn't have one sack in his last four games. Calvin Pace was little more than adequate, with 4.5 sacks, and will share the right outside linebacker spot with Maybin.
DB: Revis is the best cornerback in the game, and while he had moments where he struggled -- particularly vs. Buffalo's Stevie Johnson -- there was no one better. Antonio Cromartie has the talent to be one of the best but is way too inconsistent, although he picked up his play down the stretch. Bottom line: Cornerbacks aren't the concern here, especially with the improved Kyle Wilson as a nickel back. But safety is, with veteran and team leader Jim Leonhard bowing out for the second straight season with a major knee injury. Leonhard has vowed to return, but the Jets moved on with the signing of free-agent LaRon Landry, a big hitter who missed 17 games the past two seasons because of an Achilles injury and bone spurs. He signed a one-year deal because, he said, he wants to prove that he belongs. Then, he promised, he will be "unstoppable." Stay tuned. It's unclear what Landry's arrival means for Leonhard, whom the Jets haven't ruled out re-signing, but it will have him teamed with Eric Smith -- and the jury's out there. Smith can struggle in coverage and seems limited.